BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Boulton and NZME Radio Ltd - 2022-043 (2 August 2022)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • John Gillespie
  • Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
  • Aroha Beck
Dated
Complainant
  • Shane Boulton
Number
2022-043
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB # 2

Summary  

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

During the programme Tim Roxborogh & Tim Beveridge Afternoons, the hosts discussed Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. In response to Roxborogh’s question of ‘how do you stop Putin?’ Beveridge answered that the only thing would be ‘…a bullet to the back of Putin’s head. He has to be taken out by someone.’ The complainant alleged that these comments breached the good taste and decency, violence, law and order, and fairness standards as they incited violence. The Authority did not uphold the complaint, finding the comments did not reach a threshold justifying regulatory intervention. In particular, the Authority noted the comments did not amount to a threat or call to action, were not likely to incite action against President Putin, and were made in the context of a discussion about President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to significant loss of life and the displacement of Ukrainians. The fairness standard was not relevant to the complaint.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Violence, Law and Order, Fairness


The broadcast

[1]  On the programme Tim Roxborogh & Tim Beveridge Afternoons broadcast on 28 February 2022 at approximately 2pm, hosts Tim Roxborogh and Tim Beveridge discussed Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine:

Roxborogh:             We’re going to turn our attention now to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the whole world is following this and it’s not going to plan for Putin, which is maybe a small comfort, but I’m sure only that – just a small comfort for people who are desperately hoping that Ukraine will be able to see off the threat of Vladimir Putin… Now Bevo, the latest development today is the further threat of nuclear war from Putin. And so it’s a question that probably going to be asked every day, but how do you stop Putin, and can it be done?

Beveridge:               Yeah, now because the news that Vladimir Putin has put nuclear forces on high alert. I was having a chat to a colleague who has got family in Germany and they’re deeply concerned, in fact they think we’re heading towards World War 3, which I would hope not. Actually, you know what, I’m just gonna stop pussy-footing around, the only thing that’s going to solve – begin to solve – this problem, is a bullet to the back of Putin’s head. He has to be taken out by someone. He is an unhinged, murdering psychopath who is backed into a corner and there’s no saving grace way out of it that I can picture at the moment….And I just look at – the idea that he’s put nuclear forces on high alert, claiming it’s in response to aggression from NATO nations, it’s deeply worrying, and yeah, as I say, I’m not gonna pussy-foot around it, the only thing that’s gonna solve it is Putin gone and somebody within his inner sanctum is going to have to snap and turn, and I don’t know because he rules with an iron fist.

[2]  After some further discussion on the topic, the hosts invited the audience to call in with their views on ‘how to stop Putin?’

The complaint

[3]  Shane Boulton complained Beveridge’s comments that the only thing that will resolve the conflict ‘is a bullet to the back of Putin’s head’ breached the good taste and decency, violence, law and order, and fairness standards:

Good Taste and Decency

  • ‘It is obviously in bad taste to suggest that anybody, let alone the leader of another country be executed,’ especially on a show that aired mid-afternoon.
  • Beveridge ‘seems to understand this as he precedes the actual comment with almost an apology for what he is going to say.’

Violence

  • The comments called ‘for the murder of another human being,’ thereby inciting violence.
  • While people close to President Putin would be unlikely to hear the call, ‘the act does not have to be executed to make the statement violent.’
  • ‘…the verbal and written word can also be classified as violent.’

Law and Order

  • Under the Crimes Act 1961, it a crime to threaten to kill or do grievous bodily harm to any person.
  • ‘…the fact that [the host] made such a threat on a radio broadcast normalises the act.’
  • ‘I don't believe that it is too long a bow to say that someone in a high profile position, such as Mr Beveridge, making such comments could lead to others feeling that they have the same right to do so to people that they feel deserve it,’ for example the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition.

Fairness

  • The host acted unfairly and hypocritically as he had also recently denigrated protesters in Wellington for threatening politicians, and then proceeded to make a death threat himself.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  NZME Radio Ltd did not uphold the complaint. It noted:

Good Taste and Decency

  • ‘Newstalk ZB is an adult targeted radio station for 30-64 year olds.’
  • ‘Tim Beveridge is a talk host known for his frank and forthright discussion of all manner of topics and regular listeners would be aware of this.’
  • The show in question was a talkback show, which has been recognised as a special category of radio by the Authority, ‘where robust, challenging statements and opinions are to be expected and are to be tolerated.’1
  • ‘While robust, in response to a question from co-host Tim Roxborogh on how to stop Putin, the host was merely expressing his view on what would have to happen to enable the war to end. We do not consider the host’s comment, particularly in the context of a brutal invasion in which many Ukrainian civilians have been targeted and killed by Russian forces and where Putin and his associates have raised the spectre of nuclear war, reaches [the] threshold [to find a breach of the standard].’
  • ‘The host did not, as Mr Boulton claims, call for Vladimir Putin to be shot.’

Violence

  • ‘Although unequivocal, we do not view the comment complained of as falling into the [category] of “unduly disturbing or graphic violent content,”’ as contemplated by the standard.
  • Nor did it consider the broadcast was likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality.
  • As above, the comment complained of was justified by the context of the topic being discussed.

Law and Order

  • The comments did not ‘amount to a threat to kill or do grievous bodily harm.’
  • ‘It is clear that Mr Beveridge’s comments were not such as to actively promote serious anti-social or illegal behaviour but rather pointed to Mr Beveridge’s belief that the only way to resolve the current situation was regime change in Russia.’
  • ‘The comment complained of amounts to the host’s “vehemently expressed opinion” rather than “serious advocacy of violence.”’

Fairness

  • NZME interpreted the complainant’s concerns under this standard to be that the broadcast treated President Putin unfairly, and did not uphold the complaint.

The standards

[5]  The good taste and decency standard2 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The standard is intended to protect audience members from broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.3

[6]  The violence standard4 requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when portraying or referencing violence. Its purpose is to protect audiences from unduly disturbing violent content.5 The standard rarely applies to radio (as violent material has more impact visually).6

[7]  The law and order standard7 requires broadcasters to observe standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order, taking into account the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. Its purpose is to prevent broadcasts which encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal or serious antisocial activity.8

[8]  The fairness standard9 is concerned with ensuring that broadcasters deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast. As the complainant advised their concerns under this standard relate to the host acting unfairly and hypocritically, the standard is not applicable and we do not address it in our decision.

Our analysis

[9]  We have listened to the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy and it is our starting point when considering complaints. We weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm that may have potentially been caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, in light of actual or potential harm caused.

[11]  On this occasion, we acknowledge that Beveridge’s comments in relation to President Putin were strong and we appreciate the complainant found them offensive. However, for the reasons set out below we do not consider that they reached the threshold which justifies restricting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

Good Taste and Decency

[12]  Under the good taste and decency standard, current norms of good taste and decency, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast, must be maintained. Context is crucial when determining a complaint under this standard.10 We note the following contextual factors in our assessment:

  • Newstalk ZB has an adult target audience (35–64 year olds).11
  • Tim Roxborogh & Tim Beveridge Afternoons is an afternoon talkback radio programme.
  • Newstalk ZB and Beveridge are known for robust discussion of a wide range of topics.12

[13]  We recognise Beveridge’s comments that President Putin needs to be ‘taken out’ for the invasion to end, and his description of ‘a bullet to the back of Putin’s head’ would have been offensive and confronting to some people. They were blunt statements, referring to a very serious subject matter. However, we also note that Beveridge’s comments were made in response to his co-host’s question of how President Putin could be stopped in his invasion of Ukraine.

[14]  This topic was a matter of significant public interest. The invasion had taken place only days prior13 and had been condemned by a large number of countries around the world.14 Given President Putin’s role in instigating the invasion as the leader of Russia, which was regarded as unprovoked and has led to significant loss of life and the displacement of Ukrainians,15 it is understandable that people have strong opinions towards him. We note other commentators have also raised opinions similar to Beveridge’s.16

[15]  Further, we do not consider that Beveridge threatened President Putin as the complainant has alleged, or called for anyone to act in any way. The comments constituted Beveridge’s personal opinion that the only way the invasion would cease is if somebody else were to ‘take him out.’ While the comments were strong, in these circumstances and in the wider context of the broadcast as described above, we find that Beveridge’s comments were unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.

[16]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.

Violence

[17]  As noted above, the purpose of the violence standard is to protect audiences from unduly disturbing violent content. Broadcasters should also exercise caution with content likely to incite or encourage violence or brutality.17

[18]  The comments at issue did refer to the need for President Putin to be ‘taken out’ for the invasion to cease, and contained some specific descriptions (‘bullet to the back of the head’). However, in the context of the broadcast, we do not consider the comments amounted to unduly disturbing violent content, or that they were likely to incite or encourage violence.

[19]  Given the comments were made on radio, there were no accompanying graphic or violent images or footage. Further, as discussed in our assessment under the good taste and decency standard, Beveridge made the comments on a programme with an adult target audience, and did not threaten President Putin, or call for anyone to take action. In addition, his comments were made in the context of a discussion about President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in a humanitarian crisis.18

[20]  As a result, we do not find a breach of the violence standard.

Law and Order

[21]  This standard is concerned with broadcasts that actively undermine, or promote disrespect for, the law or legal processes.19 The key question is whether the broadcast would have had the effect of encouraging listeners to break the law, or otherwise promoting, glamorising or condoning criminal activity.20

[22]  Taking into account the contextual factors discussed above at paras [14], [15] and [19], and particularly the absence of any specific call to action, we do not consider the broadcast was likely to encourage listeners to break the law, or that it condoned criminal activity.

[23]  While appreciating the violent connotations of the comments, we also consider the comments amounted to Beveridge’s ‘vehemently expressed opinion’ rather than serious advocacy of violence or law-breaking.21 We consider most listeners would have interpreted the comments as hyperbolic and hypothetical, given they were made in a programme broadcast in New Zealand, which is far removed from Russia and unlikely to influence someone within President Putin’s ‘inner sanctum’.

[24]  Accordingly, we do not find a breach of the law and order standard.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Susie Staley
Chair
2 August 2022

 

 

Appendix

The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1  Shane Boulton’s formal complaint to NZME – 28 February 2022

2  NZME’s response to complaint – 29 March 2022

3  Boulton’s referral to the Authority – 14 April 2022

4  NZME’s final comments – 6 May 2022

5  Boulton’s final comments – 18 May 2022


1 McLaughlin and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2019-032 at [20]
2 Standard 1, Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
4 Standard 4, Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Violence, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14
6 Guideline 4a
7 Standard 5, Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
8 Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
9 Standard 11, Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice
10 Guidelines 1a
11 The Radio Bureau “Brand profiles: Newstalk ZB” <trb.co.nz>
12 See for example: Blomfield and NZME Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2022-027 at [15]; see also: Tim Beveridge “If you want to win us over, stop the patronising nonsense” NewstalkZB (online ed, 13 May 2022); Tim Beveridge “The Government is turning us into a nation of beneficiaries” Newstalk ZB (online ed, 20 May 2022); Tim Beveridge “I’m angry it’s taken this long for the PM to get here” Newstalk ZB (online ed, 10 November 2021)
13 Natalia Zinets and Aleksandar Vasovic “Missiles rain down around Ukraine” Reuters (online ed, 25 February 2022)
14 Julian Borger “UN votes to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for withdrawal” The Guardian (online ed, 2 March 2022)
15 Michael Shields “U.N. reports at least 240 civilian casualties, 64 deaths in Ukraine” Reuters (online ed, 27 February 2022)
16 Jesse O’Neill and Samuel Chamberlain “Sen. Graham says it would be ‘a great service’ if a Kremlin official killed Putin” New York Post (online ed, 4 March 2022); Sean Rayment “Western allies should not rule out killing Vladimir Putin, former Army chief says” Mirror (online ed, 12 March 2022)
17 Guideline 4c
18 United Nations “Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine Deteriorating at Alarming Speed, Briefers Tell Security Council, Calling for Attacks on Civilians to Stop” (19 April 2022) <www.press.un.org>
19 Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
20 Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
21 For a similar finding, see: Bhatnagar and Radioworks Ltd, Decision No. 2012-045 at [20] and [22]